This anti-abortion group has spent decades “behind the scenes” trying to unseat Roe. They are not finished.

Carol Tobias’ lifelong work came to fruition when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, removing federal protections for abortion rights and 50 years of precedent.

But like the rest of the anti-abortion movement, Tobias and his organization, National Right to Life, are considering the next step: enacting strict state bans. with legislatures and governors sympathetic to the cause. In states where efforts to enact such legislation will prove difficult, the group will promote “informed consent” laws for medically induced abortions and allowing medical personnel to opt out of any abortion procedures.

“I’m not worried about pro-lifers sitting back and letting it all slip away,” Tobias said in a recent interview.

Yet Tobias, who was president of the NRLC for 11 years and has spent much of the past half-century involved with the organization at the state and national level, said in an interview after taking over decision that she would rather play the piano than talk about the historic moment.

Her own activism dates back to when she was a teenager growing up in North Dakota, attending anti-abortion rallies with her parents. Those who know the reserved executive say she prefers to be behind the scenes, where she helps mediate debates within the group and sets the tone for the agenda it pursues.

“She’s been a strong hand for the pro-life movement,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, one of the organization’s chapters, told NBC News. “She doesn’t beat the table, so to speak. She doesn’t always seek the spotlight, she does her job and doesn’t care who gets the credit.”

“And in a time of flashy social media, it’s not Carol Tobias and I commend her for that,” he added. “Carol and her team, wisely, do their job and go home.”

With its 50 state chapters, NRLC stands as the oldest anti-abortion rights group in the United States, having launched its first state branch in the late 1960s. The group has spent decades advancing model legislation with friendly lawmakers, shaping how the issue is debated in the United States, and connecting grassroots anti-abortion activists with the broader political movement.

Many of these laws were passed in the hope that, when challenged in court, they would ultimately cause the Supreme Court to cut back on the abortion rights protections guaranteed by Roe and force the court to reconsider the constitutionality of the decision.

The strategy worked.

“I think all of that laid the groundwork for the court cases year after year, the justices and I’m sure the Supreme Court must have, I guess, started to get tired of all the cases,” she said. “But I think it was a great prelude” to the Dobbs decision.

Much of the NRLC’s work has taken place behind the scenes, away from public scrutiny.

“Most people have no idea what happened behind the scenes that got us to this point,” said Michael Ciccocioppo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, a chapter of State of the NRLC, in an interview. “But I can tell you that in many, many cases, it’s National Right to Life and its staff working behind the scenes in Washington and working with its state affiliates that have made a big difference in all that has happened. past.”

During Tobias’ time as the organization’s political director, NRLC was credited with coining the phrase “partial birth abortion” in the mid-1990s to describe a then-new medical procedure that involved removing fetuses of the intact uterus, ultimately playing a critical role. in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 signed into law by President George W. Bush. During her last decade as president, the group drafted a number of model laws that were passed in state homes across the country, including legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks due to the possibility that the fetus may experience pain – legislation that served as a precursor in Mississippi. legislation that ultimately served as the vehicle by which a 5-4 Tory majority in the High Court overthrew Roe.

In a post-Roe country, Tobias would like to see a nationwide ban but doesn’t think that’s possible until Republicans have full control of government and a filibuster-proof Senate majority. But, she said, she hopes Congress will pass laws preventing minors from accessing abortions across state lines if those rights are restricted in their own states.

“Our work has just begun,” Gonidakis said, adding that although Ohio has a law banning abortion at six weeks — that is, when fetal heart activity can be detected but often before many women don’t know they are pregnant – her organization is seeking new legislation to “end abortion in Ohio”.

“We don’t do football,” he added. “We’re not going to take a victory lap.”

On its website, the organization outlines new post-Roe model legislation for states that calls for the creation of a “robust enforcement regime” that penalizes those who perform abortions as well as anyone who “aids and abets illegal abortion. “, which, as the implies a person who provides information about abortion procedures or who refers someone to an abortion clinic.

The group calls for a ban on all abortion procedures except to save the life of the mother, though it calls on states to require doctors to report to a state agency when having such a procedure is needed – or face misdemeanor charges.

“On the spectrum of anti-choice groups are those who try to make the kind of public attempts to veil the real agenda,” Dina Montemarano, research director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, told NBC News. “And then you have the groups that can tell you and tell you what the real agenda is. And for me, that’s what National Right to Life does.”

Montemarano pointed to the abortion exception the group supports — when the woman’s life is at stake — saying there’s more to it than meets the eye. Only when a person is considered to be near death, and no sooner, can an abortion be performed – a standard she described as “incredibly cruel”.

In the wake of Roe’s overturn, abortion rights activists have reported reports of doctors waiting for a patient’s vital signs to become alarming before treating an ectopic pregnancy, which can be deadly and n has no chance of becoming viable.

“They’re making it clear here that they’re pushing this ‘robust enforcement regime,'” she said. “They talk about how to ban abortion nationwide and criminalize it. Deter people from seeking treatment by putting them in jail.”

But as National Right to Life and other anti-abortion rights groups brace for the next wave of laws, polls show the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down constitutional abortion protections is in jeopardy. disconnect with public opinion. An NPR/PBS/Marist survey conducted after last month’s ruling found that 56% of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, compared to 40% who support the ruling. The poll found 88% of Democrats and 53% of independents opposed the decision while 77% of Republicans said they supported it.

Anti-abortion rights advocates often point to state-level polls rather than national opinion as the primary driver of this debate. But one Pew Research Center survey published this week found that of adults living in the 17 states where abortion is or will soon be widely banned, 46% say they support the Supreme Court’s decision while 52% disagree.

The political consequences of the decision are still looming, with abortion rights certain to be front and center in a number of key state races. Tobias said she has no doubt the issue will invigorate abortion rights supporters, although she predicted it would not dominate those on her side of the issue at the polls.

“Maybe they’ve been kind of put to sleep thinking it’s never going to be a problem,” she said, adding that some Democrats may be put off by what they see as a lack of action. from party leaders. “So I’m sure they’ll get more voters, but I don’t expect them to overwhelm pro-lifers as the reason they vote.”

Gonidakis said activists on both sides of the post-Roe issue are in “uncharted territory,” making it difficult to predict where abortion laws and policy around abortion rights are going from now. here. But as for his organization, he leaves no doubt about what awaits him.

“We believe in taking the step-by-step approach, and it has worked so far,” he said. “The right to life is the tip of the spear in advancing pro-life legislation now and in the future.”

About Michael S. Montanez

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